Coming off of a 4-12 record in 2020, it’s not a surprise that the Atlanta Falcons don’t have an abundance of players making preseason “Top XX” lists, but the Falcons did manage to place four players in USA Today’s Top 101.
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USA Today has a write-up on each of their picks and we highlight a short blurb on the Falcons picks. For the full list and the full evaluation on USA Today, please click on the associated links.
No. 85 Deion Jones, 106 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 INT
Jones is the first of the Falcons to crack the Top 101. Jones was a 2016 second round draft pick out of LSU and has at least 100 tackles all four seasons that he’s been healthy. Only an injury in 2018 slowed him down. While his 2020 numbers in pass defense were sub par, Jones has 11 career interceptions and has scored five touchdowns.
Jones is signed through the 2023 season, but his dead cap hit drops from $21.5M in 2022 to $4M in 2023, so Jones will likely be playing on a new contract or elsewhere in 2023.
“Jones also has great man and zone coverage skills for a linebacker, as we saw back in 2019,” writes USA Today. “While he was picked on a bit more in coverage last season — he allowed an NFL passer rating of 103.8 when targeted, the worst number of his career — he still notched a pair of interceptions and three pass breakups. If his coverage numbers return to form, he’ll appear even higher on lists like this next summer.”
No. 80 Calvin Ridley, 137 catches, 1,374 yards, 9 TDs
Ridley is next up at No. 80, and he enters the 2021 season as the undisputed No. 1 receiver for the Falcons. He was pressed into that role in 2019 because of multiple injuries to Julio Jones. He responded with flying colors. Ridley turns 27 this season, and the Falcons have already picked up the 2021 option on his rookie contract. He’ll be looking to cash in following next season as he’ll be 29 in the first year of his second contract.
“Last season was by far his most productive NFL campaign,” writes USA Today, “as he set career-high marks in targets (137), receptions (90), yards (1,374) and yards per reception (15.3). departure of Julio Jones, there is every reason to think that next year could be even bigger.”
No. 74 Matt Ryan, 4,581 yards, 26 TDs, 11 INTs
A polarizing figure to Atlanta Falcons fans, Ryan had good passing numbers despite a poor record in 2020. As is typical of the quarterback (and head coach), he gets too much credit when things are going well and too much blame when they’re not.
A full season of Kyle Pitts should be able to replace Jones’ poor final season with the Falcons of 51 catches and 771 yards.
Those hoping to see Ryan traded in the next two seasons would be wise to look at the salary cap ramifications if he’s gone. Ryan has a dead cap number (the amount that counts towards a team’s salary cap if he’s no longer with the team) of $65M in 2021 and $40.5M in 2022 according to Spotrac.
“Sure, the Falcons traded away Julio Jones this off-season,” USA Today says, “but with the addition of Kyle Pitts and Ryan still playing at a high level, this could remain a potent offense.”
No. 50 Grady Jarrett, 52 tackles, 4 sacks
Looking at a list of the greatest draft picks in Falcons history, it wouldn’t take long to get to Jarrett’s name. Jarrett was a fifth round pick out of Clemson in 2015 and has made each of the last two Pro-Bowls.
Jarrett has two years remaining on his four-year $68M contract, but he’s been talking about as a candidate for an extension.
“Jarrett has been an absolute force throughout his NFL career,” writes USA Today. 2020 showed more of the same, as Jarrett totaled four sacks, 17 quarterback hits, 35 quarterback hurries, and 26 stops with very little help alongside him. Jarrett is able to win consistently inside the guards because he’s freakishly strong for his 6-foot-0, 305-pound frame, but he also brings a formidable quickness to his pass rush.”
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